Trump targets social media with executive order after Twitter fact-checks him

President Donald Trump holds front page of New York Post as he speaks to reporters while signing decree on social media companies in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, USA , May 28, 2020.

Jonathan Ernst | REUTERS

President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order cracking down on “censorship” of social media sites, a move widely viewed by critics as retaliation for Twitter’s decision to affix fact-checking labels to the president’s tweets.

The decree covers companies to which responsibility for liability has been granted under section 230 of the Communications Act. By law, large social media companies cannot be prosecuted for much of the content posted by other users of their sites.

Without congressional action, however, there are limits to what Trump can do with the executive order. The president said on Thursday that he would indeed pursue legislation in addition to order.

Attorney General William Barr, who also attended the signing, said the Justice Department would seek to prosecute social media companies, saying the status “had exceeded its original intention”.

The order would encourage the Federal Communications Commission to establish new rules for protecting certain websites under section 230. It would also encourage the Federal Trade Commission to take action against companies that engage in communications “misleading”, and it would form a group of state attorneys general to review relevant state laws.

Barr earlier this year signaled the ministry’s intention to review the law in a “critical” manner, originally designed to allow the protection of growing technology companies. But critics of the law have argued that it allows social media companies to turn a blind eye to illegal content. It is not clear, however, on what grounds the Department of Justice could pursue.

While Barr said that the President’s order does not repeal section 230, Trump added shortly after: “One of the things we can do … is to remove or change it entirely [Section] 230. “

The decree was released two days after Twitter, for the first time, added warning links to two of Trump’s tweets, urging readers to “get the facts”. The tweets have made a series of allegations about state-run mail-order voting services, an issue Trump has rebelled against in recent weeks.

The labels, when clicked, led Twitter users to a page describing Trump’s claims as “unfounded”.

“Trump has falsely claimed that postal ballots would lead to” a rigged election “. However, fact-checkers say there is no evidence that postal ballots are linked to electoral fraud”, a said the fact-checking page on Twitter, citing information from CNN, the Washington Post and other media.

Trump said on Thursday that social media companies selectively choosing to verify the facts amounted to “political activism, and that is inappropriate.”

Facebook released the following statement Thursday evening:

“Facebook is a platform for diverse views. We believe in protecting the freedom of expression on our services, while protecting our community from harmful content, including content designed to prevent voters from exercising These rules apply to everyone. Repeal or limitation of Section 230 will have the opposite effect. It will restrict online speech more, not less. By exposing companies to potential liability for everything that billions of people around the world say, it would penalize companies that choose to allow controversial speech and encourage platforms to censor anything. It could offend anyone. “

On Wednesday evening, he went wild – on Twitter – accusing the social media giant of “interfering” in the 2020 presidential election and of having tried to “censor” it.

“If this happens, we no longer have our freedom. I will never let it happen!” Trump tweeted Wednesday night.

The president previously tweeted that “Republicans believe that social media platforms are completely silencing the voices of the Tories. We will tightly regulate or shut them down before we can allow that to happen.”

While section 230 has critics on both sides of the aisle, including related Democratic candidate Joe Biden, who has said he believes section 230 should be “revoked”, the decree was quickly rejected by the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

“The proliferation of disinformation is extremely dangerous, especially since our nation is facing the deadliest pandemic in history,” Pelosi said in a statement.

“Clearly and sadly, the presidential decree is a desperate distraction from his inability to provide a national testing strategy to defeat COVID-19.”

Social activists condemned the order as unconstitutional.

“Although he may wish otherwise, Donald Trump is not the president of Twitter,” said American Civil Liberties Union chief legislative counsel Kate Ruane after a draft decree was released. earlier Thursday.. “This order, if issued, would pose a flagrant and unconstitutional threat to punish social media companies that displease the president. “

Still, the order had a few supporters, including the Internet Liability Project, a conservative opponent of Big Tech that is funded, in part, by Oracle.

“Social media platforms, whether or not bound by the First Amendment, should be held accountable to their end users,” said Rachel Bovard, senior advisor for the Internet accountability project.

“Many lawmakers are seeking to recalibrate the law in order to foster the accountability and transparency that achieve this goal. President Trump’s decree has these same ends.”

Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo, who introduced section 230 legislation, consulted Twitter to remind supporters of his own battle with Big Tech, but did not respond directly to the order of the President.

“I have to remember this key #BigTech dominance / monopoly is advertising, and how they manipulated [section 230] to create a behavioral advertising machine, “he wrote.

Opponents of Trump have long lobbied Twitter to take action against his frequent and frequently criticized use of the platform. Of the more than 18,000 false or misleading statements Trump made as president, more than 3,300 were made in tweets, according to the Washington Post.

These calls to action peaked this week as Trump continued to make baseless suggestion that MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough may have been involved in the 2001 death of his former staff member while he served in Congress.

The widower of the staff member asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to delete Trump’s tweets on the matter. “I ask you to intervene in this case because the president of the United States took something that does not belong to him – the memory of my deceased wife – and perverted it for a perceived political gain,” wrote the widower in a letter. to Dorsey.

Twitter has refused to delete Trump’s tweets about Scarborough. But Dorsey defended her company’s fact-checking labels on Wednesday, saying that Twitter “will continue to report incorrect or contested information about elections around the world.”

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